Laugh like no one’s watching
Welcome to the world of Emily Z Davis. Writer, city girl, adventurer extraordinaire
I was extremely concerned to see The Times of India printing an article that misrepresents OCD in such a dangerous way.
Today, they reported that police have decided to put Sneha Swakhyar Samal, accused of a triple murder, to a psychological test, claiming his behaviour was ‘like that of a psychopath’.
Asking ‘an expert’ who professes to be a psychiatrist for comment, they published this:
‘Psychiatrists said the behaviour, observed by police in Samal, is that of an insane person. “There are people, who are suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension and obsessions. We learnt Samal nurtured a grudge against the doctor just because he prescribed costly tests for his daughter’s treatment. Such type of behaviour is expected from insane people,” said psychiatrist Surjeet Sahoo.’
Oh boy. Where to begin. Let’s start with talking about intrusive thoughts. Although many people are unaware of this, and believe OCD would only cause someone to obsessively tidy up or straighten things, intrusive thoughts form a major part of OCD for many people.
They are unwanted ideas, images and thoughts that pop into the mind of a sufferer and cause them huge anxiety. Very often, they are about harming other people. Someone with OCD may be plagued with thoughts of stabbing someone, or fears that they are a paedophile. An intrusive thought is not a grudge, as the psychiatrist here insinuates.
To be clear: intrusive thoughts are symptomatic of an overwhelming fear of doing something wrong. They would never lead someone to commit a crime. The anxiety at the idea of doing such a thing would cripple a sufferer in horror.
A person with OCD is characterised as being extremely anxious, and would be the last person to murder someone. Technically speaking, someone with OCD is basically at exactly opposite end of the spectrum to a psychopath. To see The Times of India linking the two is extremely worrying. Anyone who reads this article and does not have some concept of the nature of OCD will walk away with a completely inaccurate perception of the disorder.
Finally, someone who has OCD is not insane. Ok. They just aren’t. Having a mental illness does not equal insanity.
Please apologise and amend this article before any further damage is done Times of India.
If I tell you OCD is a complex disorder that shouldn’t be mocked, will it mean anything to you?
If you have the illness, definitely. If you are close to someone who does, of course. But let’s say you have no personal experience of OCD. Let’s imagine you didn’t even know what it stood for ten years ago. Or, perhaps you are one of the 60,000 people who follows a twitter account called @OCDnightmares, or among the millions who tuned in to Channel 4’s latest series of Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners last week.
If you fit into this category, it wouldn’t be surprising if you couldn’t understand me when I say it is wrong to laugh at OCD. How could you, when public misconception holds it to be more of a character eccentricity than a disorder – a quirky trait that will mean you just love to line things up straight, or that cleaning is your favourite hobby.
The truth is, most people who take the micky out of sufferers of OCD aren’t bullies. They aren’t monsters, sitting at home with their laptops firing out tweets about how ‘OCD about their pencil case’ they are, in the hope that someone with the disorder will see their post and weep. They might even tell you they think mental health is a pressing and important issue or that they themselves have suffered from depression, but ‘come on man, you’ve got to be able to take a joke sometimes.’
While sufferers, and I include myself here, get riled in response, it’s useful to take a minute and remember that their actions usually spring from ignorance rather than malice. Trying to explain the reality of the situation calmly will always be a better way of dealing with the problem than calling the speaker an ‘idiot w*nker’. Lots of intelligent people have misunderstood things and hurt people as a result before, and will continue to do so until the end of time. A misunderstanding doesn’t make someone inherently stupid or cruel. A stupid person is one who will not consider rectifying their error.
Here’s what I’m trying to say: if you don’t get OCD at the moment, that’s ok. I understand why you don’t understand. But, hold on, wait up. Don’t think I’m offering you a one way ticket to the shining city of ignorance. Unknowingly mocking OCD does not make you blameless, because, ultimately, ignorance is no defence. A bully is a bully whether they believe themselves to be one or not. Just because you do not understand that you have hurt someone, does not mean you have not.
This applies especially to corporations who continue to make money out of the humour surrounding OCD when they have been lobbied by mental health campaigners over their actions.
In the same way that I appreciate the general public may not understand OCD, there will be corporations who also misunderstand the disorder. Companies are, after all, run by humans. It we begin by giving them the benefit of the doubt, it’s feasible to imagine that they may misuse the word OCD out of ignorance, with no malicious intention.
In the first instance, I don’t believe the misunderstanding makes them entirely blameless, as the media and manufacturers have a duty to research an illness before turning it into a product or slogan.
But oversights do happen. The real crunch point is what happens when the issue is pointed out, the cause of offence clearly explained, and the company has to make a decision over how to respond.
At this point, I believe it’s definitely possible to right a wrong. By way of example, a company called Fred and Friends recently created a product called The OCD Cutting Board. When the problem was pointed out and carefully explained by mental health campaigners, Fred and Friends apologised and renamed their product The Obsessive Chef. Credit to them. I don’t harbour grudges. All’s forgiven.
If on the other hand, the company is given the opportunity to correct the misunderstanding and doesn’t, then we have a problem.
Let’s consider the Channel 4 show Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners. The TV series has attracted huge criticism from mental health charities, sufferers and campaigners alike, yet more series continue to be broadcast, even, I might add, in OCD Awareness Week, which seems especially cruel.
Hurting people by undermining the validity of their illness in ignorance is one thing. But continuing to do it once you have the knowledge that what you are doing is inducing stigma: now that’s truly malicious.
No other animal or bird comes close to generating such intense outpourings of dislike as does the seagull, it would seem.
Research by Norfolk-based Gone Crabbing has found that 95% of British people surveyed detest seagulls, viewing them as the thugs of the bird world.
The primary cause of this loathing is down to their scavenging behaviour. Other reasons seagulls are disliked include:
However, the 5% of people questioned who “love seagulls”, really love them. Overwhelmingly, this is due to their association with the coast. As one respondent to the questionnaire put it:
“Even though you might be in a shopping centre in Hereford, and miles from the sea, the sound of a seagull can transport you to the coast in a trice”.
Bizarrely, Steve the Seagull is one of Norfolk-based clothing company Gone Crabbing‘s most popular characters. Prior to creating their 2015 range, the team decided to find out how people felt about British birds, animals and sea creatures including crabs, seals and mussels. Results, for the most part, were as you’d expect – the cuddlier the creature in real life, the higher they scored in the research.
Apart from seagulls that is, where the mere mention of them had people breaking out into a red mist. People ranted that they would happily shoot the blighters if it were legal, stating they are far worse than pigeons and go around bullying smaller birds.
“It’s surprising how hated seagulls are. I was expecting magpies and pigeons to fare far worse. Surprisingly, next to Colin the Crab, Steve the Seagull is our best seller on hoodies and t-shirts, whilst Neil the Seal, the most popular animal in our survey, doesn’t sell as well” said Gone Crabbing MD Susie Mason.
“Perhaps it’s something to do with cheekier personalities coming out better in cartoons and the fact we’ve captured the inherent nature of a seagull with Steve?”
Personally, I like them. But then I always have loved an underdog.
It seems The Sunday Times Style Magazine wants us to believe having OCD is the latest fashion accessory.
In yesterday’s mag, a columnist wrote of Victoria Beckham’s new Mayfair shop: “OCD rails: See the interior of VB’s new Mayfair store: zig zag rails that allow clothes to hang exactly 4 inches apart. So chic.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve adored The Sunday Times since I was small. Every weekend, my parents would lie in bed reading the paper with their steaming cups of tea, while I poured over the pictures in the culture and style section and decided yes: when I grow up, I’m definitely going to be a journalist.
Imagine my dismay when I saw my oracle joining the ignorant trend of using the term OCD in a trivial way.
Sufferers will assure you, OCD is an awful disorder, with far more to it than liking your wardrobe colour coded. To say “Ooh, I really love my hangers evenly spaced, I’m so OCD!” is to misunderstand entirely. OCD is not about order that results in pleasure. It is about order that causes devastating pain. If the hangers not being four inches apart caused extreme distress, yes, that would be OCD. In this case, all I can see is misguided glee.
Let’s be clear: to enjoy order is not to have OCD. To live in total fear of disorder and uncertainty, to the point where it eats up your whole world – now that’s OCD.
Here’s a story for you. At the age of 15, having decided that The Sunday Times was the only paper I was ever going to write for (it hasn’t happened yet, I’ll keep you posted), I practically begged them to take me on for for experience and, miracle of miracles, they did.
While there, I met lots of intelligent and wonderful people who inspired me to continue on my writing journey and stand up for my beliefs.
Everyone was lovely to me (so don’t worry, the devil doesn’t wear Prada), but what appealed to me most was that from day one, I was surrounded by creative, forward thinking, intellectual people.
I cannot imagine any of them approving of misusing the word OCD.
Let’s be clear: there is no reason why OCD should be an exception to the social norm of not mocking the name of a disorder or disease. Would you feature cancer or depression on your fashion page? I think not.
OCD? So chic? I think not.